That was the headline in the early hours of Friday morning.
Yes, the Spanish window closed 24 hours later, but the consensus was that, true to their word, Liverpool weren’t selling.
With fans threatening, “I want Lemar, Keita and Van Dijk, or #FSGOut;” supporters have often accused Liverpool’s owners of being reluctant spenders; more concerned with the Boston Red Sox than Liverpool Football Club.
We didn’t sign Van Dijk. We didn’t sign Lemar. We didn’t even sign Keita, despite securing his services for next season.
But FSG did something more important: they sent a message.
Coutinho’s main reason for leaving was to go to a “top club.” And who could blame him? At the time, Liverpool had qualified for the Champion’s League for the second time in eight years, hadn’t won a major trophy since 2006 and, for almost thirty years, failed to win the league title.
To compound issues further, Liverpool had won just one trophy in the last ten years; the Carling Cup in 2012.
Barcelona, on the other hand, had won six league titles, five Copa del Reys, three Champions Leagues and a host of other trophies in the last ten years alone.
There was no comparison.
The truth is, Liverpool had fallen short of their “big club” status since 2005; a status which should have plagued them longer had it not been for a miraculous turnaround in Istanbul, winning their fifth Champions League title.
Liverpool, despite the occasional trophy, had been in decline for over twenty years.
Project after project, rebuild after rebuild, Coutinho is yet to win a single trophy; despite being at the club for almost five years. Barcelona won several major trophies in the same time period.
For Coutinho, moving to Camp Nou wasn’t just desirable. It was necessary.
— Klopped (@SaiSamarth1) September 7, 2017
When Tom Werner and John Henry bought Liverpool in 2010, many referenced the infamous “Moneyball” theory championed with the Boston Red Sox (the process of buying overlooked – and therefore undervalued – players; building a team with maximum statistical output on minimal capital input).
Once these players fulfilled their potential, they could be sold at a premium with the money reinvested in the club.
But if “Moneyball” was an accusation thrown at FSG for “being tight” then, clearly, people haven’t been paying attention.
If “Moneyball” exists within the Premier League then it exists at the Emirates; selling players like Van Persie, Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri and Oxlade-Chamberlain for huge premiums on their original purchase price.
For Arsene Wenger, keeping Alexis Sanchez was “a huge price,” causing Arsenal to “sacrifice £60-70m.” For anyone making comparisons between Arsenal and FSG, the difference couldn’t be clearer: while Stan Kroenke views selling players as a religious duty and buying them a moral perversity, FSG recognise keeping Coutinho isn’t a sacrifice; it’s good business.
FSG haven’t been reluctant to spend money. They’ve been reluctant to earn it.
Philippe Coutinho is the perfect Moneyball player. Bought for just £8.5m in 2013, a bid fourteen times that value came from Barcelona just five years later. But FSG decided he wasn’t for sale.
The opportunity was there to make one of the biggest returns in sporting history. But they refused.
Instead, Liverpool’s ownership decided he was going nowhere, opting for a different kind of business model: Hardball.
The only way to protect Liverpool’s “big club” status was to regain its position as a European heavyweight; able to retain its players and reject the advances of “bigger” clubs. Selling Coutinho would have achieved the opposite, causing lasting damage to the club’s image and damaging its reputation as a “big club.” Not sure? Just ask Barcelona. Neymar leaving was a huge embarrassment, made possible by a hastily-agreed release clause in his contract. £200m doesn’t repair the damage done by a star player forcing their way out of the club.
Imagine if, against the public assurances from FSG, Coutinho left. Every player; from Mane, to Salah, Firmino and Can would know that as long as they made enough noise, they could leave. They wouldn’t have to honour their contracts. They could leave whenever they wanted.
Can, like Neymar, is now insisting on a release clause in his new contract, knowing Liverpool’s stance on selling disgruntled players: “When we say no, we mean no.”
For exactly the same reason they refused to sell Coutinho, FSG will apply the same resolve to Can’s release clause: there won’t be one. They’d rather lose Can for free next summer than give in to non-committal player demands, setting precedents for worthless contracts and long-term instability.
Which brings me back to Coutinho.
Coutinho’s move to Barcelona was never going to happen; not because Coutinho was irreplaceable but because the move was never about Coutinho in the first place. It was about Liverpool Football Club regaining its place in world football.
FSG are transforming Liverpool from a selling club to a club which isn’t bullied by the highest bidder; a club which goes toe-to-toe with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid; selling who they want, when they want, to whomever they want.
That is the true cost of keeping Coutinho.
Call it propaganda. Call it arrogance. But don’t call it stupid. By keeping Coutinho, FSG have paid £118m to send a message: Liverpool Football Club, is back.